That's why when my family was gathered eating dinner I decided to tell the story of when my dad completely dropped the ball in teaching me about sex. And I told this story while my dad was sitting right next to me and my mom, whose innocence rivals that of nuns, was directly across from me. (Sometimes I fail to filter. This might not be shocking news.)
You know? I think this is the perfect time to tell you all a story about sex. And can you pass the gravy, please?
The awkwardness was palpable. My mom, thankfully, has early onset Alzheimer's so she'll likely forget the conversation. Boy am I glad she has a fatally degenerative chronic brain disease right about now! (Hold on a minute while I go weep in the corner for an hour.)
I'm back. And it's official: joking about a family tragedy while you're in it doesn't make it feel better. It was worth a try, though, right? Right.
Anyway, back to sex.
In third grade I was sitting peacefully in class not doing my work because I was too busy being distracted by counting the teeth on the zipper of my backpack or pondering the mysteries of tether ball strategy or whatever else was occupying my ADHD-I riddled childhood brain when the girl next to me, who was obnoxiously thorough in her work and made me feel dumb, got a prize from the teacher.
It was really neat. It was a bookmark. A bookmark that had some animal doing a thumbs up and saying "You did it!"
The rest of the kids at my table all snickered at the bookmark, and said "You did it, April! You had sex." April was in on it too. Everyone laughed. Hard. I had no idea what they were talking about, but they were laughing a lot so clearly it was a hilarious joke!
That's why, the very next morning while my family was reading scriptures together in a scene straight out of Little House on the Prairie except even more pure and idyllic, I thought I'd share the hilariousness of the joke I'd heard with everyone. (I repeat. No filter.) My little sister who was learning how to read finished reading a verse and my Mom, who is as pristine as the drifted snow and who I'm quite certain still had never uttered the word "sex" herself, said the fateful words: "Great job, Jenni! You did it!"
Cue The Weed: "Yeah, Jenni [who is five]! You did it! You had sex!"
I will never forget the look of horror on my mom's face after I said that. It's filed away in the same mental filing cabinet that stores me seeing a guy get hit by a motorcycle and photos of the Holocaust and every story of child abuse I've ever read and Janet Reno's picture. It was terrifying, and I had no idea what I'd done. "What did you say?" she asked in shock. And I repeated, this time with a lot less confidence, "she did it. She had... sex?"
"We don't say that, Josh," my mom said with a new look on her face. This look said: "I have literally no idea how to react to what you, my eight-year-old son, just uttered, but I feel as though I have been molested by your words and my insides feel all gross and weird and your father will definitely, DEFINITELY be hearing about this."
Later that day I found myself sitting beside my father in his bedroom.
Dad: So, I heard you said something interesting this morning. About sex.
Dad: Don't worry--you're not in trouble. Do you know what that word means? "Sex"?
Me: Kinda. Doesn't it mean... like, really pretty?
Dad: Well, not exactly that.
Me: What does it mean?
Dad: Well, it's... something really special. And something really important...
I couldn't wait to hear what this mysterious thing--this very special, enigmatic thing called sex--was. Indeed, I was now more curious about it than about most anything else.
My father paused. I think I can pretty well imagine his inner monologue at this moment: "My son is eight years old and is asking about sex but eight is WAY too young to have sex and I cannot freaking believe he's already hearing about this crap at school because shouldn't I really just be talking to him about Nintendo games or sports or something and what if I tell him about it and he gets all curious and then goes out and tries to figure out how to DO IT and then becomes a total perverted freaky eight-year-old sex addict who grows up to be a gigolo so yeah maybe it's too early to talk about this and I wonder if he'll notice if I change the subject yeah he probably will dammit what do I do?"
Dad: The truth is, son, I think it might be something too special to talk about when you're this young. But we will later. I promise.
Me: Oh... okay....?
Naturally, all this conversation did was intensify my curiosity about this magical, weird and wonderful thing called "sex." What was it? Who did it pertain to? Clearly it was an action, otherwise the bookmark wouldn't have said "You did it!" But what was this activity? Did it involve food? Trampolines? Race-cars? Paint? Was there equipment involved? Was it a medical procedure? Could I do it? Did my friends who had talked to me about do it? Did my dad do it?
It was only about two weeks later when what felt like the most random conversation ever took place. I was sitting next to a kid named Brian Starkey and out of nowhere he turned to me and said, "Wanna know what happened the other day? I was walking down the street and saw a guy put his CENSORED into a girl's CENSORED." The conversation ended there. Nothing was explained. But in a fit of intuition, it hit me: THIS IS SEX!
Nobody likes uncomfortable situations, but it was clear the time had come to pull my dad aside and give him "the talk." I got home that day, walked up to him and said, "Wanna take a walk to the park?" I could tell he was nervous, but this was just something that had to happen. I'm sure he could sense that I was going to talk about something uncomfortable, but he was a growing father, and I had to talk to him about this man to man so he could grow up to be the type of dad that didn't pansy out before the sex-talk with my siblings. (Side note: it didn't work.)
Me: I think I know what sex is.
Dad: Oh really? What?
Me: *repeats the story he heard in class*
Dad: Yep. That's what sex is.
Me: Okay then.
Me: I'm really glad we had this talk.
Dad: Me too, son. Me too.
Now, if you have any questions, just come talk to me. I'm always here to listen, Daddy.
I'm going to end this post with didactic counselor advice that I might not even be able to follow when my kids grow up and if you don't want to read it, you should stop right now.
Moral #1--Talk to your kids about sex. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to say the words penis and vagina (which I censored above because of the nature of the narrative--but really, they aren't dirty words.) Be the one to tell them what sex is. Make sure to talk about what a wonderful, beautiful thing it will be. While my dad kinda dropped the ball in this story, I must say he was really good about that last thing. As I got older and we talked more frequently about sex, he was very clear about what a good thing it was, and he was up front about terminology and he let me know that his door was always open. In crucial moments in my growing up, that really helped.
Moral #2--Even if you mess up with your kids, it doesn't mean that they'll become crazy freaky sex-crazed serial killers who sew flesh costumes out of corpses and then eat the genitals for breakfast.
The Weed's (unsolicited) Advice Column is now closed for the evening.